Lord Adonis tweeted yesterday opposing the idea of a Royal Commission on the civil service and, whilst I have no particular interest in that issue, I think the principle of gathering ideas and evidence when dealing with significant structural or policy change is something that should be embedded in government.
The opposite seems to be happening in criminal justice. The evaluation of payment by results in through the prison gate support has been set aside in favour of rolling a quite different model out nationwide. The whole prison estate is to be reorganised to fit into the new payment by results commissioning model. Contracts will be awarded based on 21 arbitrarily constructed areas that are not coterminous with local authority boundaries, police areas or probation. Around 70 prisons will be designated as resettlement prisons and people will have to spend the last three months in one of these so they can be released back into that area and managed by the contractor. Short sentence prisoners will be supervised for a year after prison and not allowed to spend one night away from their designated address without requesting permission from providers.
None of this radical change has been tested and much of the detail is yet to be decided. What, for example, will happen to women? Will the one or two women given a community sentence by the local court ¬†be forced into group work with men? Apparently, the prison service is thinking about how women will fit into the 70 resettlement prisons; I just hope they are not just put into wings in the big men‚Äôs jails.
A recent Parliamentary question found that the government has spent ¬£920 million on electronic tagging in the last ten years. There has been no proper evaluation of how effective this has been. Yet, the new legislation will encourage magistrates to include tagging when someone breaches their community supervision order following release from a short prison sentence. I suppose it is one way of boosting the profits of the private security companies, but I can‚Äôt see that it achieves anything more than that.
It is about time we introduced some robust analysis of what works in penal practice and used it. But that is not happening.
The government appears to be hell bent on faith-based policy. This is¬† ‚ÄúI have an idea and I am going to do it‚ÄĚ policy. This is policy driven with ministers holding hands over their eyes ignoring what little evidence there is and failing to ask for advice. Surely a Royal Commission would be better.
The BBC has revealed that more than 57,000 people are on police bail waiting to hear if they are to be charged with an offence and some of them have been in this legal limbo for many months .
I was prompted to have a think about this issue when I was on the BBC Radio 4 Media Show and found myself agreeing with Trevor Kavanagh from the Sun that there should be time limits on the time people are held on police bail.
The Law Society has suggested a statutory time limit and the criminal bar has suggested that should be 28 days, which I think could be overly constraining. Over a million people are arrested every year and if only 57,000 are on police bail at any one time, that is a relatively small proportion. However, the problem remains that some people are held for too long.¬† It is therefore right that some sort of limit should be put in place but the police should be able to seek extensions from an independent authority, probably a magistrates court.
There are some crimes that are so complex that they require careful police investigation, and that might include fraud or sex offences. Nevertheless, the impression remains that the police are too often either overwhelmed with work and short of resources to investigate in a timely manner, or are complacent about the investigation once a suspect has been arrested.¬† Either way, it is unjust to leave people on bail for too long before a review takes place.
Of course, this has partly been brought to public attention because so many journalists have been arrested and are waiting to be charged.¬† It is interesting that when the great and the good, the powerful and the people with a public voice, are ensnared in the criminal justice system, they find out just how cumbersome and under-resourced it is.¬†Perhaps more of these people should indeed spend some time in police custody, in courts, and even, dare I suggest it, in prison so they will suddenly become ardent reformers.
We learnt yesterday that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have appointed 449 staff .
Many of these posts were filled with family and friends, as not all PCCs recruited staff using the normal public open system but instead appointed friends from their own political parties ‚Äď something that could be unlawful or would certainly be considered very bad practice in any other setting.
Interesting that the BBC and other sources keep repeating that the PCCs were elected by an average of 15% of voters, as this is not strictly true. Most were each elected with an average of less than 8% of voters, as in all but 8 cases, the small number of people who went to the polls supported someone else in with their first preference vote. So it is that I have met with PCCs, who grandiloquently proclaim that they have a democratic mandate, when they did not even get a majority of the low turnout, but had to rely on second preferences.
There have been so many horror stories emerging from the PCCs relating to misuse of expenses, hiring of taxis and coming up with bizarre policy suggestions, including asking people to pay for their time in a police station and charging them more if they try to commit suicide. You couldn‚Äôt make it up.
A national poll showed that a majority of Conservative voters want the PCCs to be abolished and a return to the local police authority and 98% don‚Äôt think they have made any difference.
However, now that both Labour and Conservative parties have PCCs in place, it would be very difficult to scrap them overnight, even if the public has no confidence in them and their reputations are pretty tarnished. So what should happen?
My suggestion is that, in areas where there is sufficient public support for retaining PCCs (decided by a petition from at least 5% of the electorate), the next government should put the question to a local referendum. This mechanism was employed so that local people could decide if they wanted an elected mayor or not; most decided they did not want a mayor, but a few did. This would force the local PCC to put their case to the electorate, including the argument about value for money, and let the people decide.
I think the Conservatives are probably locked into keeping the PCCs as it was a flagship policy, but I have a meeting soon with the Labour shadow policing team when I will be discussing this suggestion.
What do you think?
Eight assaults were recorded every week at Doncaster prison last year, making it the adult jail with the highest number of recorded assaults in the country. The prison is one of the private prisons holding adults and is run by Serco. The other prisons with very high assault rates all hold teenagers and children which have always experienced high levels of disorder and violence. Ministry of Justice statistics show there were 393 assaults in Doncaster during 2012.
The total number of assaults in prisons in England and Wales was 14,511 and although this is down 4 per cent on the figure for 2011 it still reveals a prison system that is fostering violence. Prisons recorded 2,987 assaults on staff last year, of which 260 were classed as serious.
The number of self-harm incidents recorded in prisons has also fallen slightly ‚Äď from 24,648 in 2011 to 23,158 in 2012, and again, it is the private prisons that have the highest recorded rate of self-injury. Peterborough prison, often lauded by justice ministers as a beacon of good practice, recorded 1,256 incidents of prisoners deliberately injuring themselves, the highest in the country.
Of the top five prisons that experienced the highest number of incidents of self-injury, three are private jails. Altcourse is run by G4S and recorded 863 incidents, Bronzefield is a women‚Äôs prison run by Sodexo and recorded 770 incidents of self-injury.
Doncaster is one of the most overcrowded prisons, which has traditionally increased its income, although this has been stymied recently as overcrowding has been limited to what is called ‚Äúoperational capacity‚ÄĚ so inhibiting the additional payments made to the companies running the prisons. Nevertheless, Doncaster has baseline places for 743 men but in March was holding 1,127. In such crowded conditions, it becomes very difficult to do anything useful with someone‚Äôs time in prison and violence becomes rife.
The five most violent prisons in 2012:
1.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Feltham, children and young adults males ‚Äď 689 assaults
2.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Ashfield, children,¬† boys ¬†‚Äď 587 assaults
3.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Wetherby, children,¬† boys ‚Äď 484 assaults
4.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Doncaster, young adult and adult men, ‚Äď 393 assaults
5.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Glen Parva, young adult males ‚Äď 392 assaults
Worst five prisons for self-harm in 2012:
1.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Peterborough, adult men and women ‚Äď 1,256 incidents
2.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Foston Hall, women ‚Äď 874 incidents
3.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Altcourse, young adult and adult males ‚Äď 863 incidents
4.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Bronzefield, women ‚Äď 770 incidents
5.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Eastwood Park, women ‚Äď 756 incidents
The Magistrates Association raised the issue of cautions recently and in response to the media coverage, the minister for policing, Damian Green, announced that he had ordered a review.¬† The Howard League has been approached by the Ministry of Justice for its views.
The Howard League has been working with police services across the country to support their success in reducing unnecessary arrests of children. We secured universally positive media coverage in December 2012 and March 2013 when we publicised the success of all police forces in reducing child arrests by a third.¬† Our concern therefore is primarily about the use of cautions for children and young people, although the principles apply to adults.
We are encouraging police forces to develop informal restorative responses to childish misbehaviour and to allow frontline officers to use professional discretion in dealing with children.
The reduction in child arrests will impact on the number of cautions issued. However, it may be the case that cautions will continue to represent a similar proportion (just over a third) of criminal justice outcomes.
There is compelling evidence from the USA that processing children through the criminal justice system appears not to have a crime control effect and appears to increase delinquency. This implies that every effort must be made by police to use informal and restorative responses avoiding even a simple caution if possible.
Celerity rather than delayed interventions are the most impactful which means that a simple and quick caution can have the desired effect of reducing the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated.
The evidence suggests that strategies that focus on certainty rather than severity offer the greatest likelihood of a positive deterrent outcome and that celerity is an important component alongside certainty.
‚ÄėRepeat‚Äô and ‚Äėpersistent‚Äô are different ‚Äď a 10 year old child caught stealing a sweet and two years later caught spray painting a tag on a bus stop is a ‚Äėrepeat‚Äô whereas an adult exposing himself to adult women on buses ten times is ‚Äėpersistent‚Äô.¬†The minister was quoted as saying cautions should only be used for first timers; this is unjust as it is perfectly reasonable to caution when there is a long time gap, when the age or vulnerability of the person is taken in account, when the offence circumstances dictate or the offence is different, and when a repeat offence is trivial.¬† This is a more challenging political argument to make to the public, nevertheless, it is important for political leaders to understand the difference and not to talk in public in simplistic and erroneous terms.
The evidence underlines the need to give 17 year olds the protections afforded to 16s and under, so they don‚Äôt accept a caution when it is not necessary as this can be life blighting. They should have access to parents or appropriate adult as well as a lawyer. The Howard League is supporting a judicial review taken by Just for Kids Law against the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office on the issue of appropriate adults and we are awaiting a judgment.
The evidence indicates that taking more people through the protracted and expensive magistrates courts instead of using a caution would be counter-productive and lead to more crime.
I was sent this press release by INQUEST, the charity that represents families of people who die in the care of the state, and was so moved that I am reproducing it in its entirety. The family and lawyers are asking questions about what happened to Melanie Beswick while she was in prison, but perhaps the more important question is why she was sent to prison in the first place. Inquests and public inquiries into deaths in prison never hold the sentencing court to account. I remember giving evidence to the public inquiry examining the murder in Feltham of Zahid Mubarek, a first-time prisoner and was five hours from the end of a 90-day sentence for stealing razor blades worth ¬£6. The prison was, rightly, severely criticised for its lack of care, but the magistrates who sent Zahid Mubarek to his death were never called to account for their decision.¬† Inquests and public inquiries should hold magistrates and judges to account for their decisions too.
So this is the press release published on Thursday 11 April 2013 as the inquest into the death of Melanie Beswick starts:
‚ÄúMelanie Beswick was 34 years old when she died on 21 August 2010. She was found hanging from a ligature made from shoelaces attached to the window of her cell in HMP Send.
In March 2009 Melanie was given a nine month prison sentence for fraud. This was her first offence. Melanie had a long history of depression and self harm, and self harmed on several occasions during her first period of imprisonment. Confiscation proceedings were brought and following her release Melanie was ordered to repay the money she took within 6 months or serve a further 12 month prison sentence in default. Short of selling the family home and making her husband and two young children homeless Melanie could not repay the money in time and was sent back to prison by the court.
She self-harmed on several occasions during her imprisonment and was subject to an ACCT (Assessment, Care in Custody, and Teamwork ‚Äď the system used for prisoners who are at risk of self harm) on three occasions. She had also reported bullying on several occasions, and expressed fear that she would not be able to repay the money and so face further imprisonment. On the day of her death, she had been found unresponsive and motionless in her cell and, despite no obviously signs of physical ill health, was taken to hospital, where she became agitated and tried to harm herself several times. The doctor eventually discharged her but instructed that she was at high risk of self harm and needed constant observation and mental health input.
Despite this, on Melanie‚Äôs return from hospital that afternoon the duty governor decided that she did not need an ACCT or monitoring. Apparently unknown to him another officer had already begun the process but she was only placed on hourly observations. At about 7.45pm Melanie asked to speak to a Listener (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to support other prisoners in distress) but was told to wait because the on-duty Listeners were busy with other prisoners. At 8.35pm, she was found hanging in her cell and despite attempts to resuscitate her was pronounced dead at 10.02pm at hospital.
Her family hopes the inquest will address the following issues:
- What HMP Send should have known about Melanie‚Äôs medical history
- The ACCT process
- The medical care Melanie received in HMP Send and her undiagnosed underlying mental health condition
- How the prison dealt with Melanie‚Äôs allegations of bullying
- Information Melanie was given about her sentence
- The care she received at hospital on the morning of the day of her death
- Information breakdown between the hospital and the prison
- The decision of the Deputy Governor not to instigate ACCT monitoring
- The Listener scheme
- The provision of first aid by prison staff
Melanie‚Äôs husband, two young daughters, mother and step-father are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jo Eggleton of Deighton Pierce Glynn and Jesse Nicholls of Tooks Chambers.‚ÄĚ
Today two families whose 17 year old sons both committed suicide after being arrested are delivering a petition to Downing Street calling for the law to be changed to protect all children in police custody.
The Howard League intervened in the judicial review R (on the application of HC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis CO Ref 7772/2012 heard in February and we are waiting for the judgment that would change the way 17 year olds are treated in police custody. As interveners we are not commenting on the facts of the individual case.
However, the charity has been conducting research on child arrests and last year held a major national conference on the issue. We were particularly pleased that both ACPO and the Police Federation at our conference publicly supported the principle that 17 year olds should be treated as children in police stations.
This judicial review proceedings were brought by Just for Kids law on behalf of a young person who was denied an appropriate adult on arrest at the police station when he was aged 17. The claimant has argued that not only was the decision not to provide him with an appropriate adult unlawful, but that the general rule that 17 year olds are not provided with appropriate adults when all other children are, is illegal.
Under the Police and Crime Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) 17 year olds are excluded from an automatic right to an appropriate adult and we consider that this is inconsistent with domestic legislation.
If my 17 year old daughter was arrested and held overnight in a police station, I would want to know. If a parent cannot, or will not, attend the police station then police can call on an Appropriate Adult.
The Appropriate Adult role was created under PACE 1984, and is required for the ‚Äėmentally vulnerable‚Äô and juveniles. The Appropriate Adult is required to be present at a number of points, for example: when the child or young person is told their rights and entitlements; when they are interviewed; and when they are charged. In the case of juveniles, the Appropriate Adult will normally be the parent or guardian; when they are unwilling or unable to attend, an Appropriate Adult must be provided by the local authority.
In 1998, Local Authority Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) were made responsible for arranging Appropriate Adult provision.
PACE requires appropriate adults to be provided for all ‚Äėjuveniles‚Äô and defines juveniles as people under 17 years of age. Currently, 17 year olds in police custody are not provided with an Appropriate Adult as a matter of course. The police may exercise their discretion to provide 17 year olds with an Appropriate Adult if they are assessed as being ‚Äėmentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable‚Äô. Some police forces have a policy of providing Appropriate Adults to 17 year olds in police custody as a matter of course, thereby exercising their discretion to offer the necessary safeguards and protections to children.
The provision of the Appropriate Adult is designed to safeguard against the risk that a child will be deprived of legal entitlements. It assists the child to understand the process at the police station, ensures the child understands their right to have access to a solicitor and understands who the duty solicitor is, and it can also ensure the child does not make the wrong decisions under pressure and is not subject to improper pressure from police or peers.
The law defines children as anyone under the age of 18. Section 105(1) of the Children Act 1989 (the ‚Äú1989 Act‚ÄĚ) was introduced in parallel with the ratification of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 (the ‚ÄúUNCRC‚ÄĚ). It defines a child as a person under the age of 18 thereby bringing domestic law into line with Article 1 of the UNCRC. Procedural safeguards have developed to ensure that a child defendant‚Äôs rights are protected.
The law requires that children be treated differently from adults. This is especially the case where children are at risk of criminal penalties. The law recognises ‘the vulnerability of an accused minor and the imbalance of power to which he is subjected by the very nature of criminal proceedings’. 17 year olds are treated as children in almost all other aspects of criminal law.
The Appropriate Adult is a minimal safeguard that ultimately assists in ensuring a fair procedure, which is to the benefit of all concerned in the criminal justice process. The Appropriate Adult is uniquely placed to look after the child‚Äôs best interests and to ensure a minimum level of fairness throughout the process.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has a longstanding interest in ensuring that the criminal justice system is adapted to make sure that young people‚Äôs rights and entitlements are observed and children are afforded the protection owed to them. We have done extensive work with and on behalf of children in conflict with the law.
- Every year 75,000 17 year olds are held in police custody. In 2011, the Howard League published research into the overnight detention of children in police custody which called on the government to afford the same protections to 17 year olds in police custody as other children.
- More recently, we have discovered that between 2008 and 2011, more than one million child arrests have been made in England and Wales since 2008.
- In 2011, a child was arrested every two and a half minutes in England and Wales and police made more than 209,000 arrests of boys and girls aged 17 and under. This number includes 2,117 arrests of children who were aged 10 or 11, meaning that on average six primary school children were arrested every day.
- However, the number of children arrested is falling; in 2008, more than 315,000 arrests were recorded. Several police services have reviewed their arrest procedures and policies as a result of the Howard League engaging with them and ten police services have seen their number of arrests more than halve between 2008 and 2011.
The families of Joe Lawton and Edward Thornber are calling for a simple and reasonable change in the law so that parents, or Appropriate Adults, can support their children.
I spent the day in a prison for boys last week, and whilst I was impressed with the caring attitude of the staff and some of the activities, I was horrified at the rags children were wearing.
Around 1,000 boys aged 15 to 17 at any one time are incarcerated in prisons and they have to wear prison issue clothing. On leaving the sweat box that drives them from court, the boys are made to strip in front of two members of staff and their clothes are taken away. They are issued with grey tracksuit bottoms that have been worn by several other boys. These are baggy and saggy and the ones I saw were ragged and had holes in. They are given t-shirts that also have been worn by other boys and again, these were saggy and worn with colour washed out. There is little attempt to get the clothing to fit. Boys who have not brought enough underwear with them are given prison issue pants, again, that have been worn by several other boys.
They make this clothing last the week when it is sent to be washed and they are handed another lot. Boys tend to rinse out pants in sinks so they don‚Äôt have to have someone else‚Äôs underwear again.
This matters because how can we expect boys to be clean and respectful when we are making them slouch about in tracksuit bottoms that don‚Äôt fit and fall down, and anyway are basically rags.
If the boys don‚Äôt bring a coat with them, they don‚Äôt get a coat. This means they don‚Äôt go outside (you may have noticed, it has been a bit cold recently).
These boys looked like some of those nineteenth century pictures of slum kids, wearing misshapen, worn out, rags. It is shameful.
Although the consultation on the Ministry of Justice‚Äôs proposals to outsource the majority of the probation service has now closed (you can find the Howard League‚Äôs response here), talk of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms still tops the agenda in criminal justice circles.
Last week the Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, attended the Probation Chief‚Äôs Association Conference and reiterated the rationales behind the privatisation of probation ‚Äď a key one of which is cost-cutting. In the consultation, the Ministry of Justice declares that the increased efficiency and innovation that will be brought by the private sector will enable the number of people receiving probation services to increase by 25% whilst the Ministry of Justice simultaneously implements a further ¬£2 billion in budget cuts.
Many assume that the same cost saving logic of the Work Programme also applies to the probation proposals. With the Work Programme, when a previously unemployed person finds a job the government both saves and gains money as that person is no longer in receipt of benefits and is instead paying tax. If you apply that logic to probation, for each person that stops offending the government will save money in court costs as well as the cost of a prison place or community order. However, this assumes that the level of crime dictates the size and cost of the criminal justice system; in reality this is far from the case.
Crime levels in England and Wales have been falling steadily for many years. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that crime* has halved since 1995, but since this time the prison population has increased by over 90% ‚Äď with the Ministry of Justice budget increasing alongside it. The size and cost of our penal system is a political decision. To date, ministers have refused to contemplate taking more active steps to reform sentencing, thereby reducing the prison population and utilising cheaper and more effective community sentences to save money. No matter how successful Transforming Rehabilitation turns out to be (and we are sceptical that it will be successful at all), significant savings will only materialise if fewer people are sent to prison and prisons are closed.
*To which some might say: ah, but that is only recorded crime.¬† Yet while it may be true that much crime goes unreported, the systems for recording crime in England and Wales are some of the most sophisticated in the world.¬† Recorded crime levels therefore do give a good sense of the overall trend.¬† The government may not always know how to respond properly to crime, but it certainly knows how to count it.
Police and Crime Commissioners were elected last November, some four months ago. So how are they doing?
While some have wide-ranging experience of the criminal justice system, with a few having held heavyweight management posts, most PCCs won election with no experience or expertise in policing. The key problem arising from this inexperience is one of not knowing where the boundaries of their responsibilities reside and, in some cases, what the function and purpose of the police actually is.
Though many of those elected in November were independents, even many of those who represent national parties don‚Äôt seem to be subject to the formal structures of local political accountability that a councillor or MP, for instance, would expect. When I was elected as a councillor, I had to account for my decisions and actions to the branch of my local party each month. This important ongoing scrutiny is not in place for many PCCs, irrespective of whether they are linked to a political party or not.
Nor do the PCCs have a wraparound structure as do, for example, local councillors.¬† A newly elected councillor is one of many and there is an infrastructure of administration, policy history and local plans within which they have to work. Whilst it is possible to have maverick councillors, they really can‚Äôt go far and inflict much damage.
Many PCCs however, seem to be heading off into the wide blue yonder.¬†I hear terrifying stories about some. One allegedly said that he intended to abolish the witness and victims service when the budget is devolved to him, as he plans to meet all the victims of crime personally.¬† Another seems to be particularly interested in tractors.
They also need to learn about boundaries. Because many know little about policing and the criminal justice system, they don‚Äôt know where the limits of their responsibility lie, what other agencies do and where the gaps are. So they move into areas of work being carried out by probation, the CPS, prisons and lawyers.
The ignorance about the law and the rule of law is also frightening. The debates in recent years about the purpose of policing seems to have passed many of them by ‚Äď naturally, as they have been involved in all sorts of other interesting things.
New magistrates have to undergo serious training. Should PCCs not have been encouraged to do just a little? Too many are acting like the little silver ball in the pinball machine, and that is not good for anyone.